Jiski lathi, uski bhains (One who wields the stick, gets the buffalo) — Old North Indian proverb
Buffalo logic can be baffling. Before the Commonwealth Games, the Jat Arakshan Samiti was threatening to unleash thousands of cattle into the Capital, to press for job quotas. Today, as the Jat belt of Sonepat, Rohtak and Bhiwani basks in the after-glow of Haryana’s gold rush, the bovines are back in focus.
Ask chief minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda the reason behind distributing ghee coupons to medallists at his Chak De Haryana Chak De India rally on November 1 and he says, “During the Games, I was repeatedly asked: ‘Aapke champions khate kya hain? (What do your champs eat?)’ I reminded them of the saying: Deshon mein desh Haryana, jahan doodh ghee ka khana (The land of lands Haryana has a diet of milk and ghee). The Haryanvi Murra is the best buffalo breed in the world. So, apart from cash and cars, we gave them ghee.”
Jat’s the way, they like it
Carved out from Punjab in 1966 and traditionally known for its contribution to agriculture and the army, Haryana is making headlines for different reasons these days. After the spectacular success of the state’s athletes at the Commonwealth Games, farmers are upbeat with the government increasing prices for land acquisition. And if Maruti set up shop in the state in the 80s, Harley Davidson, too, has announced it will assemble its iconic bikes near Gurgaon.
Even as Rohtak gets its first batch of IIM students, Hooda, the badminton-playing, sport-promoting Chief Minister of Haryana, says the Australians have approached him with a proposal to set up a sports university and he is examining it.
There’s a surge of optimism across the state. In Bhiwani, anointed India’s “Little Cuba” after Vijender Singh’s victory at the Beijing Olympics, more than 200 boys are busy jabbing, punching and shadow-boxing at the Bheem Stadium.
The object of their deification is Vishnu Bhagwan (real name, we didn’t make it up), bellowing out commands. “Fight, stop! Okay, final round!”
At the business school in Rohtak’s Maharshi Dayanand University (MDU) Manisha Birla, 21, studying for an MBA in business accounts, recalled how her mother Usha Rani, a safai karamchari, helped her play gender-bender.
“In a state known for rampant foeticide, girls outnumber boys in my class 45:35,” she says.
There may be more to the ‘Haryana Number 1’ jingle blaring on FM radio these days than a government-engineered PR stunt.
The Haryanvi, post the CWG blitz, is in the mood for an image makeover. Says MDU vice chancellor RP Hooda. “Once the media stop obsessing over khap panchayats, they’d realise that Haryana will become a power-surplus state by next year. We top other states in agricultural productivity and are only behind Goa in per capita income. Beyond numbers, sport is bringing about unprecedented social re-engineering.”
The Haryanvi’s perception of himself and his place in the world is changing, and perhaps for good reason. The Jat has been either lampooned, with his lathi and his jat buddhi (logic), as a bumbling if well-meaning idiot like the Channel V character Udham Singh or, of late, making news for female infanticide, honour killings and khap panchayat rulings. The CWG wins, where Haryana’s players accounted for 32 medals out of India’s tally of 101, have changed all that. As Professor Bhupendra Yadav of the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library, with roots in Rewari, puts it, there is a genuine sense of pride among the people. “Ever since achieving food sustainability during the Green Revolution, Haryana has been waiting for its place in the sun. Sport has provided that.”
The CWG effect
Stories of the winners’ overnight success have travelled far and wide with the change in their lifestyle fuelling aspirations. Says Amit Kumar, a wiry, muscular boxer at Bhiwani: “Vijender and Paramjeet Samota are rock stars. Before he won bronze at Beijing in 2008, Vijender and I used to have juice at the neighbourhood stall. Today, he is either in Patiala training or on TV mingling with Bipasha. There’s a Land Cruiser, Verna and Endeavour in his driveway. Every boxer in Kaluwas Village wants to emulate him.”
Jagmati Sangwan, 50, part of the Asiad volleyball team of ’82, now heads the women’s studies centre at the Maharshi Dayanand University. She says sport is the athletes’ ticket out of poverty. “Commonwealth has created a linkage between sport, jobs and glamour which works like a youth magnet. Even regressive village elders have been forced to think about it.”
Despite the change in mindsets, some things don’t change. If Hooda gave the buffalo due credit for the athletes’ CWG performance, it continues to be part of the narrative even in the stories of medal winners.
In Ballali, a sleepy hamlet 65 km west of Rohtak, now known as the ‘Geeta-Babita ka gaon’ after the sisters who wrestled their way into sporting history, a gleaming silver SX4 and a Dzire, gifted to them by the government, are parked next to the buffalo barn. In the sisters’ austere drawing room, a pair of Puma sneakers occupies a shelf below framed portraits of Chaudhary Devi Lal.
Haryana watchers, pointing to the state’s highly skewed sex ratio, the Jats’ friction with Dalits over reservations and the feudal mindsets displayed by its infamous khap panchayats, say it will be a long time before the state’s problems are over. Prem Chaudhary, senior academic fellow at the Indian Council of Historical Research, says the Commonwealth Games euphoria needs to be seen in perspective. “The euphoria may not lead to real change unless the state adopts a sports policy that works at the grassroots.”
But for the moment, the Haryanvi can savour the reflected glory from the medals and hope that the Murra buffalo continues to work its magic. “Ghee helps boost our physique,” says Dharambir Nain, 21, a six-feet tall sprinter from Ajaib village. “And the buffalo is part and parcel of our culture. Its milk will help me go for gold at the Asian Games.”